With Spring Training underway for the Cards, a few storylines have developed. Besides McGwire’s recent talks and the hovering cloud over the rookie hitting coach, the Cards made some staff additions and the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation is becoming clearer. Here’s what we have learned in the first few days of “Spring” (It’s still cold and snowy up here at the ‘Cuse).
–Mike Matheny will take on a more prominent role in the organization. The former catcher has enjoyed Spring Training as an instructor the past few years, but has now agreed to a more involved position. Matheny, who lives in St. Louis, will evaluate minor leaguers throughout the season along with duties as a roving catching instructor. He is well suited for the job as a Gold Glove winner and longtime leader in the Cards clubhouse. Matheny was a great teammate and field general for many Cards teams earlier in the decade and mentored current all-star Yadier Molina. In his new role, he will get the chance to help out more young catchers in the organization. Matheny will also spend a few days a month in St. Louis as a special assistant. Many saw Matheny as manager material during his career. His intangibles make him a prime candidate to one day run his own club. For now, a part-time job is all he wants so he can be with his kids as they grow up. He does show interest in managing one day, often picking Tony La Russa’s brain. This is the first step for Matheny that could lead to a managerial job one day.
-One major question heading into Spring Training is the fifth spot in the rotation. The race is down to three realistically. Just days into workouts, Rich Hill, Jaime Garcia, and Kyle McClellan are the favorites. It is still too early to see a leader in the trio. It will be an interesting storyline as Opening Day nears. Hill and McClellan hold an edge on Garcia because he is very inexperienced, only throwing 30-40 innings in 2009 after surgery the previous year. He likely needs a full year to build up strength and stamina to compete for a starting job. Garcia has been sharp in workouts thus far demonstrating good control in bullpen sessions. The lefty could spend 2010 in the minors to work toward a rotation spot next year. He has the coaching staff excited for what the future holds. With that in mind, it could come down to Hill and McClellan. Hill struggled with command during his workouts, but it’s too early to worry. The former Cub is still getting back into the swing of things after shoulder surgery. He’ll only get better as the Spring goes on. McClellan may be the very early favorite. He has worked hard this offseason to make an impression on the club. McClellan also has four pitches, and variety is key for starters in the bigs to survive. He has been good out of the bullpen the last two years, and hopes the momentum will carry into a starting gig.
-The bullpen is another area that will be refined and finished in Jupiter. The guys closing out games for the Cards should be solid in 2010. Mitchell Boggs was a long shot for the fifth spot, but he was in the race nonetheless. Now, the Cards project him as a nice piece of the ‘pen. He came up a starter, but the coaches see him as a perfect fit in the bullpen after a good showing in relief in 2009. His velocity increased and he was more focused on his attack in relief. The righty is ready to do whatever it takes to help the team live up to expectations in 2010. If McClellan does fill out the rotation, another spot in the bullpen will open. Rich Hill isn’t a good fit in relief, so that leaves Josh Kinney with the chance to make a comeback. He was good in the 2006 playoff run, earning a win in middle relief. Injuries kept him sidelined for much of the last three seasons. He is finally healthy and could make the team this year with a solid showing Spring Training.
-I’ll keep you updated on the storylines that pop up throughout Spring Training. The Cards are off to a good start with McGwire handling his issues and the pitchers and catchers getting back into the swing of things.